Novels The Nakamura Nakata Way

Last month, a novel was published.  Now, that in itself isn’t news as hundreds of thousands are novels, novellas, and novelettes are published every month.  What is news, however, is that one novel in particular was a computer-assisted software program written novel.

Every author and every writer worth their salt will admit that they use tools to help them write their stories.  Whether it’s a thesaurus or a dictionary, an online news story or browser research, every author and every writer makes use of various tools to create.

What makes this novel different is that the software program used was one where the author abdicated responsibility for the direction the story took.

By answering 11 questions, the computer software automatically drafted a plot.  By answering another 30 questions about the protagonist, the main character in the story was set in stone with default actions and reactions that were predictable based on the 30 answers inputted into the program.  And so, in the space of 41 questions, the story was already written before the first word was typed.

The authors, 44-year-old Ko Nakamura and 35-year-old Eiichi Nakata, spent a year (yes, 12 long months) completing the book that tells the story of a teen who has a troubled relationship with his stepfather.  He finds his place in life by learning how to write a novel thanks to his involvement with the school’s writing club.

Ko Nakamura isn’t without notoriety for his writing.  He graduated from University with a degree in sciences and took a job at an optical equipment manufacturing plant. He also gave up his high school dream of being a professional musician.

When he turned 30, he left the company and turned his attentions to writing full-time. He wrote a trilogy of books (the first was published in 2002) with the third being two novellas in one book, for which he won the Noma Prize for New Writers.

Interestingly enough, the third book in the trilogy closely paralleled his own life as the first story told the tale of a young man who quit university to pursue his dream of success in the music industry while the second story told the story of the band’s guitarist and drummer running into each other at the optical equipment manufacturing business where they are both employed.

Ko Nakamura then went on to write a best-selling love story in 2005.  In other words, he has had success writing fiction the old-fashioned way.

The novel that was published via this software program is aptly (in my opinion) titled, “I Can’t Write A Novel.”  Oddly enough, Ko Nakamura was quoted as saying that “it meant a lot for [Nakamura] to realize that [he] can make a novel more interesting if [he] consciously does what [he] used to do unconsciously before.”

This brings to mind the centuries old Infinite Monkey Theorem that states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for long enough will most likely compose a text that’s reminiscent of a passage in one of William Shakespeare’s plays.  It’s a variation on the theme Aristotle and Cicero wrote about back in Ancient times.

Back in 2003, the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator Project kicked off.  It began with 100 virtual monkeys typing.  The population doubled at a set number of days, and the non-stop creation of random strings of characters resulted in … an abysmal failure of amazing proportions.  It was scrapped eventually and all because all those monkey couldn’t create anything worth reading in spite of the hard work they in invested in their writing.

Oh, I know that a few years back there was a lot of excitement about a computer composing classical music, drawing upon an unbelievably large database of existing classical music coded with five values:  pitch, duration, volume, voicing, and instrument.  The program sought out short passages and looked for patterns, analyzing the way computers do, and then re-assembling them into a “new” composition.  But as proficient as the music may sound to an audience, it is somehow lacking, and what is lacking is what I suspect will also be lacking in the software program that co-writes novels with authors.

The essence of the human experience.

The soul of a creation cannot be reduced to simple computer algorithms to be churned out as a unique expression of those algorithms that has soul.  What is authentically human cannot be artificially recreated.

And what makes creativity so amazing is the fact that until you reach the end of a piece of music or the final touches on a painting or the last page of a novel, anything unexpected can happen, taking reality as you know it in a completely different direction.

Elyse Bruce

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